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Tracking Stolen Gadgets — Manufacturers' New Dilemma

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the big-brother-is-on-call dept.

Privacy 250

heptapod sends in a story from the NY Times about a growing problem for the makers of high-tech gadgets: deciding when and how it's appropriate to track a stolen device. With the advent of ubiquitous GPS and connections to services like the Kindle book store, the companies frequently have a way to either narrow down a user's location or impede use of the device. But some, like Amazon, are drawing a hard line when it comes to establishing that the device was actually stolen. "Samuel Borgese, for instance, is still irate about the response from Amazon when he recently lost his Kindle. After leaving it on a plane, he canceled his account so that nobody could charge books to his credit card. Then he asked Amazon to put the serial number of his wayward device on a kind of do-not-register list that would render it inoperable — to 'brick it' in tech speak. Amazon's policy is that it will help locate a missing Kindle only if the company is contacted by a police officer bearing a subpoena. Mr. Borgese, who lives in Manhattan, questions whether hunting down a $300 e-book reader would rank as a priority for the New York Police Department."

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Street justice? (1, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395303)

Mr. Borgese, who lives in Manhattan, questions whether hunting down a $300 e-book reader would rank as a priority for the New York Police Department.

If that's the case, then what does he hope to achieve by finding out the location of the Kindle? Rhetorical question -- we all know what he hopes to achieve, and Amazon wants no part of it.

Re:Street justice? (5, Insightful)

Lloyd_Bryant (73136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395405)

Mr. Borgese, who lives in Manhattan, questions whether hunting down a $300 e-book reader would rank as a priority for the New York Police Department.

If that's the case, then what does he hope to achieve by finding out the location of the Kindle? Rhetorical question -- we all know what he hopes to achieve, and Amazon wants no part of it.

If you had bothered to read the entire quote, he did *not* ask for Amazon's help in finding the Kindle - what he asked them to do was *disable* it. Which has some merit - if Amazon did disable those devices when stolen, it would kill the black market for stolen Kindles. But as noted in TFA, this poses a problem, as it's too easy for someone to contact them, pretending to be you, and reporting *your* Kindle as stolen...

What *should* happen is that Mr. Borgese files a police report on the stolen Kindle, and can then contact Amazon, with the police report number as evidence that he's not some practical joker. Amazon then disables that device, so that whoever stole it (or whoever bought it from the thief) can no longer gain the benefit of having it. This reduces the potential for mischief (and, in the case that the person simply misplaced the device, puts the onus on *him* to reverse the process), while still destroying the resale value of the stolen item.

This is more or less what Mr. Borgese attempted to do. But Amazon has no mechanism for this - they want to be contacted by a law enforcement officer with a supoena. Which the police probably won't bother doing, unless the theft is tied to drug dealing, terrorism, pedophilia, or whatever BS is high on their public relations agenda this week.

Lloyd B.

Re:Street justice? (4, Insightful)

spectral (158121) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395487)

Why not just provide a way to disable the kindle that is associated with an amazon account until that same account enables it again? Then I can disable it if I left it somewhere.. if I recover it, I can enable it. No one else can. The kindle should not say what the name of the account is or anything that the thieves can use to identify what account to try to hack in to either. There shouldn't need to be any human involvement in here, I've already authenticated who I am by being able to login (with a password, auto-login should not be sufficient).

Re:Street justice? (2, Insightful)

spectral (158121) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395515)

Obviously this assumes that 1) Currently unbricked kindles can be re-associated with a different account, and 2) The person it was stolen from can still brick a kindle even after re-association for a period of time, in case the first thing the thief does is re-associate it. Say, 48 hours to report your kindle stolen to Amazon, and they'll still disable it [and remove any charges made to your account, if that's possible from the Kindle, etc.].

Re:Street justice? (5, Interesting)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395947)

Ideally they should just force you to authenticate with your existing account before you can disassociate/re-associate the device.

E.g. the moment you click 'disassociate', the device actually becomes bricked until the device password is entered.

When you associate with a new account, the password you type becomes the 'device' password.

There ought to also be a way to password-lock the kindle as you can with cell phones. And they should take care to make sure a thief can't easily defeat the device password.

Re:Street justice? (5, Insightful)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395541)

And yet, when a copyright holder comes and asks for withdrawal of a book on all Kindles in the world, Amazon has a mechanism for that. I know they've already apologized, but it just felt ironic.

Re:Street justice? (5, Insightful)

moosetail (1635997) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395631)

In 9 years of /.-ing, I have rarely seen a post that really cuts to the issue the way this does. I modded it up with my 'real' account, and made a shadow for this. Nemyst is dead on; and other services, especially iTunes, should read carefully. Amazon demonstrated they are lightweights, and the original article shows they don't really give a shit about their customers. Their customers have an obligation to return in kind.

Re:Street justice? (1)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395641)

Yup, yet another good reason not to purchase a Kindle.

Re:Street justice? (1, Insightful)

Kreigaffe (765218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395689)

In order to disable the device, they have to be able to distinguish one device from another. That means tracking (and beyond just an account-login level).
I.. thought.. that we didn't *like* that sort of thing. My Slashdot mindthink interpreter could be malfunctioning, but I doubt it.

Re:Street justice? (4, Insightful)

Romancer (19668) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395723)

You actually think that they have no record of a serial number of the device that your account is linked to?
How would they send you the books you purchased? Your account is tied to the device so you can use it.
That's not any more "tracking" than your cell phone company does to give you the calls to your cell phone.
They have "activated" it to be tied to your account.

Just as Amazon should be able to have the accout owner log in online and enter in their username/password and validate a captcha to disable ther device.
They purchased it didn't they? It's tied to their credit card to be able to buy books with it right? So If you can make a binding purchase with the devices authentication and that is enough for them to charge your credit card, isn't it enough verification for them to disable the device?

Re:Street justice? (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395881)

In other words, Amazon is basically saying "f*** you, unless given a subpoena requiring us by law to assist, we will not."

Seems to be the corporate motto these days, only help track down lost/stolen things when legally required to do so.

It's already standard fair for asking companies to release any info. Got ripped off by an eBay seller or paypal contact you sent $$$ to and want to sue? Good luck getting any info out of eBay / PayPal themselves, even as much as an address or phone number for you to send a letter to.... (without a subpoena).

It's basically just a cover-your-ass, "me-first" strategy. A criminal could conceivably sue Amazon over releasing info that lead to their identification, I guess.

Or maybe the "criminal" turns out to be an ex-spouse or ex-girlfriend who didn't actually steal the device, but the boyfriend's a stalker and wants to figure out where she's hiding, OR to deactivate the kindle he had given her as revenge after the bad breakup.

Probably ultimately escalating into computer destruction [youtube.com]

Re:Street justice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395897)

unless the theft is tied to drug dealing, terrorism, pedophilia, or whatever BS is high on their public relations agenda

Clearly, then, what Borgese should be doing is relying on the faceless mob to bring him to 15-minutes fame.

See also "stolen sidekick".

Re:Street justice? (3, Informative)

BigRedFed (635728) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395949)

But as noted in TFA, this poses a problem, as it's too easy for someone to contact them, pretending to be you, and reporting *your* Kindle as stolen...

This is such bunk... I worked for a couple years in customer service for the cell phone industry. If you call and report your phone lost or stolen, it is automatically added to a black list and can then only be reactivated by you. It can not be activated on another account while it is on the black list and can only be added to the black list if it is part of an active account. The only time you need a police report is if you have the insurance program and you want to get a replacement under the insurance. This requirement is usually waived if it's the first time you have had your cell phone lost/stolen. I think I only took about two or three calls where someone tried to call in and activate a lost/stolen phone. Policy was that the original owner had to call in and report it as found. Plain and simple and logical. Any argument about someone calling in and pretending to be someone else being a problem is an indication of ulterior motives, as the user claims in TFA, or bad security policies to begin with. If it's easy for them to find, they should be asking people to file a police report, then have a couple of reps that work with the police dept to track them down after the police report is filed. Wouldn't cost them much and the rest could be sorted out where it belongs, small claims court.

Re:Street justice? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395991)

But as noted in TFA, this poses a problem, as it's too easy for someone to contact them, pretending to be you, and reporting *your* Kindle as stolen...

What *should* happen is that Mr. Borgese files a police report on the stolen Kindle, and can then contact Amazon, with the police report number as evidence that he's not some practical joker.

First: how is a practical joker going to get my Kindle's serial number, mac address, and imei number? You are imagining a problem that does not exist.

Second: Why should the police be involved? If I leave my Kindle in an airport while visiting New Mexico, do I report it stolen? To who? My home town police? New Mexico?

Third: At what price level is Police involvement warranted? Its not exactly Grand Theft Kindle you know. Cops have a few more important things to do. Cops have no authority to get involved unless a crime was committed. Losing your Kindle is not a crime.

Fifth: Cellphone companies in Europe do put stolen phones on a list. They can't be activated.
US carriers refuse to do that. Its the same problem as Kindles. They can tell you who has it by by which credit card was used to purchase books. If they won't tell you they should be obligated to disable it.

Sixth: Protecting a thief makes them Amazon a co-conspirator.

Re:Street justice? (1)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395447)

"Device Retrieval." This is where Amazon puts on their best, brightest smile and points to their corporate mercenaries.

Re:Street justice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395643)

maybe nuclear holocaust is the best thing that could happen to our species

Bottom Line (2, Insightful)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395305)

Buy a $3 paperback book. Be kind and leave it for the next person.

Re:Bottom Line (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395527)

Here let me fix that for you.
Buy a $10 paperback book. Be kind and leave it for the next person.

Re:Bottom Line (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395615)

Let me fix that for you.
Buy a used $0.50 paper back book and not give a damn where you leave it or who has it because it was 50 cents.

police (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395307)

the police barely respond to car theft

how would you prove (5, Insightful)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395309)

the device was really stolen an no sold used

Re:how would you prove (5, Insightful)

Krelnor (1189683) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395389)

I wish I had mod points, because this is exactly the issue. Let's say someone puts their Kindle up on eBay, and then after it sells calls Amazon and says that the device got stolen. How is Amazon supposed to know whether the device whether the device was stolen or not? Even worse, what happens if Amazon believes someone claiming to own your device and bricks it, where does that put them? It's entirely reasonable that Amazon won't do anything without a direct request from the cops (or presumably a court order).

Re:how would you prove (5, Insightful)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395425)

I support your position on this.
Same with any electronic device that can be remotely disabled. Wouldn't it be a bitch if I called onStar and said "Oooh, hey buddy. My car got stolen, here is my name, license plate # and my onStar ID(blah blah)" and they kill the car. But its not my car, its my ex's... I'm sure she would get a kick out of it

Re:how would you prove (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29396035)

> Wouldn't it be a bitch if I called onStar and said "Oooh, hey buddy

Stolen cars show up in police reports.

So would you if you pulled this stunt.

Re:how would you prove (4, Insightful)

Lloyd_Bryant (73136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395429)

I wish I had mod points, because this is exactly the issue. Let's say someone puts their Kindle up on eBay, and then after it sells calls Amazon and says that the device got stolen. How is Amazon supposed to know whether the device whether the device was stolen or not? Even worse, what happens if Amazon believes someone claiming to own your device and bricks it, where does that put them? It's entirely reasonable that Amazon won't do anything without a direct request from the cops (or presumably a court order).

That's the role a police report should play. When you file a report with the police, the police report number can be given to Amazon as evidence that an actual theft occurred. Amazon can then query the police to verify the report is genuine (insurance companies do this all the time in the case of auto accidents, theft of insured property, etc, so the mechanisms for this are already in place), and once they've done that can disable the device.

In your Ebay example, what would happen then is that the buyer of the now useless device could contact your police department, with the records of the sale, and you'd potentially be facing criminal charges for filing a false police report (cops *really* don't like people doing this, and they know where you live, so there's a real chance they'd follow up on this).

Re:how would you prove (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#29396031)

And why would they do that?

They sold it. They got their money.

Turning around and screwing the person who bought t does not bring the kindle back to their hands to sell again.

Amazon knows who owns it, that owner can prove who he is and which kindle he owns. Its this little magic thing called an Original Amazon Bill of Sale, you know, the one with your credit card and the serial number on the same piece of paper?

Just where do you get your gadgets that such things are unfamiliar to you?

Require a police report (2, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395431)

how would you prove the device was really stolen an no sold used

You do what they do for passports: you require a police record indicating that you have reported it stolen. That way if the person you track down did not steal it the person who lied to you can end up in hot water for lying to the police, wasting police time etc. plus you have a reasonable defence.
Of course the better way to do it is the way that Apple does with the iPhone: you let the user trace their own device without company intervention. That way the end-user is directly responsible provided that the mechanism is appropriately secure.

Re:how would you prove (1)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395435)

I don't think Apple, Amazon, or anyone selling software or hardware is particularly concerned about damaging the resale value of their products. Look at their recent concern about the resale of software by companies like EB Games, DRM, and online distribution. Companies don't WANT you reselling their products. If I buy a paperback I can lend it to a friend, share it, sell it, or burn it as I desire. Not so with ebooks.

Re:how would you prove (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395503)

....Not so with ebooks....

That is one of the main disadvantages of e-books and other DRM encumbered digital goods. It also eliminates the secondhand market as you said. If publishers could figure out how to prevent you from selling your paperback book, they would also do it in a heartbeat.

Re:how would you prove (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395801)

I doubt Amazon cares whether you loan, sell or share your Kindle. They'd be thrilled if you burned it (and bought another).

They do have this little bug where you can't loan, sell or share an individual book on it. But were talking about the device itself here, right?

Presumably (3, Interesting)

Dorsai65 (804760) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395311)

He bought it from them and they have the serial number of the device they sent him. Why should it be a big deal for them to brick it on HIS request? If there's an issue with whoever wants to use it, it's between the other user and him, not him and Amazon.

Then again, I can understand how they wouldn't want to get into something where they don't know the gory details (i.e. he sold it and wants to ransom it for more money).

Seems like there might be a niche market here for a service to track (possibly using add-in 'root' software) high-end devices that are stolen.

Me, I don't have enough money that I can afford to forget and leave a $300 device laying around on an airplane... :-P

Re:Presumably (1, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395361)

Why should it be a big deal for them to brick it on HIS request? If there's an issue with whoever wants to use it, it's between the other user and him, not him and Amazon.

And what's the issue? He's mad because he left it on the table when we went up to the counter to get another latté?

I get it. Theft is bad. But how is bricking the device the answer? It won't un-steal the Kindle. So they brick it and what then? It goes into a landfill? Charming.

Re:Presumably (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395373)

If thieves know they are useless after being stolen they will not steal as many.

Re:Presumably (1)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395511)

Unless Amazon has some explosive charges tucked away in the Kindle, all it'll take is one geek friend of the thief to take it apart and do whatever unbricking is needed to make it a not-useless device again.

Re:Presumably (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395711)

That is, however, still a fair amount of work, and it's never going to be as useful as it was, since a lot of its usefulness was tied to Amazon's service.

And keep in mind, it's only worth $300 in the first place. Stolen, it would be worth much less even if it was fully featured, and it's not -- so, we're already down to, what, $100? A geek capable of unbricking it is likely able to make enough money at a legitimate job that this doesn't sound that good, especially when you now have to split it with whoever is doing the theft.

Oh, and it doesn't have to be explosive charges to truly "brick" it -- the term "unbricking" is really a misnomer, as "bricking" generally involves making the device into an expensive paperweight, that cannot be restored to usefulness. One really simple example would be to adjust voltages and timings so that some crucial piece of hardware (like the CPU) gets fried.

Re:Presumably (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395953)

....so that some crucial piece of hardware (like the CPU) gets fried....

Oh yeah, some hacker figures out how to do that and starts frying gadgets left and right; oh what fun! I would never buy a gadget that I know can be fried permanently, unless it was really cheap. The Kindle with its DRM basically allows the the erasing of legitimate data remotely and does not allow legitimate passing on of a book to a friend, such as normal dead tree books allow. A device that allows remote killing of content is never really yours, but always belongs to the company that has the ability to kill content for whatever reason. In the case of the hardware of the device, if it can be bricked remotely, even the hardware is no longer yours, although you may have paid good money for it.

Re:Presumably (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395651)

it is a fair question about our society. What good does it do to punish any law breakers. IE when you jail a murder does the victum return to life... (be it any un recoverable crime, murder/rape/molestation/arson/securities fraud) Sometimes it helps the victims feel better... However in this case with a device, and likely a opportunity thief, they may call amazon for help/support or decide once it is of no value for them they may return it. Or a reward may be much more affective (at a lower price.) Or even if it is a young person they may decide crime doesn't pay.

Re:Presumably (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395933)

it is a fair question about our society. What good does it do to punish any law breakers.

Theft is a crime. When criminals face justice, society benefits. If the police were able to track down this thief, establish that he or she committed the crime, and bring him or her before a court of law to judge the offense, that would be OK. This isn't that. This is an individual saying, "They took my stuff, so I want them to get burned because of it." That's not justice, not in the societal sense.

I get the "if people think it's useless to steal them, they won't steal them so much" idea. Fine. But I'm not sure your average junkie casing a coffee shop is thinking that far ahead. They're just thinking, "I see some kind of laptop."

And again, so the device gets bricked, the thief can never get it to switch on, and it ends up in a landfill. Is that justifiable? How many days of use should an electronic device have before we tally it up as waste? What if every Walkman that was ever stolen had the same remote bricking capability? You'd see a little mountain of Walkmans at every city dump. I guess then you'd get a little cottage industry of Walkman recycling...but still, what's the point if there was nothing wrong with the Walkman before it got bricked?

And just to turn the melodrama up to maximum: What if it became common practice to bake a little device into every loaf of bread, so that when someone steals the bread, the baker can flip a little switch and have it turn to poison in their mouths? Is that justice?

Re:Presumably (1)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395459)

...and Amazon isn't in the business of such things. They service of bricking even your own devices isn't teh service being offered. They'd have parents wanting to brick children's toys within a week's time. Besides, I think Amazon handled it incredibly well. They'll obey law enforcement. Beyond that, the ability to brick the device isn't a consumer feature. Sorry.

In reverse (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395471)

If there's an issue with whoever wants to use it, it's between the other user and him, not him and Amazon.

Supposing it happened the other way around. He left his Kindle in a coffee shop and the person who found it, rather than steal it, decided to note down the serial number and call Amazon to have the Kindle bricked as a mean-spirited prank. Amazon should require some level of "proof" of theft but a police report of the device being stolen should be enough to discourage any prank calls since falsifying one will land you in trouble. They should not need direct police involvement and a court subpoena.

Re:In reverse (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395697)

How do you verify a police report? Should amazon then call to verify the report is really over a kindle?
Their are answers to those and more exist, they may even be simple enough for just a few cases. But amazon is a big retailer and obviously doesn't want to deal with the issues for little reward for them.
Having been a AT&T victim 10 years ago, where they got the wrong address for my cell phone account, and thus labeled my $125 purchase of phone as fraudulent, and couldn't ever get that label removed (and thus I have never dealt with AT&T since because of this.) I can understand a smart company just not wanting to get involved.

Re:Presumably (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395635)

Electronics companies could make versions that have restricted usage requirements (like it won't function without phoning home within a week), and the original registered owner has the right to order the company to activate some sort of kill switch. It would have to be clearly advertised so people become aware the devices are not for resale, but this might solve the theft problem. There is little use in stealing a product that is designed to self-destruct*. As long as the effort required for a thief to get around the bricking mechanism or salvage parts is great enough, 99% of them will not gain from taking the item- assuming people buying stolen goods learn fast enough to not buy dead products.

The phone home function could also be enabled/disabled by the owner so it doesn't encumber normal use, but then the device might be easier to alter to defeat this, so it might have to be encumbered by this DRM-like effect as a trade off for added security. I don't like how this idea prevents resale, but the only other solution I can think of is to have the device associated with a primary account that has the power to disable and re-enable the device- it would be hard to both make sure buyers are aware of the account-change process and to make it easy to change the primary account upon sale without the buyer or seller being put at risk. It is easier to get across to people that there is no feature to resell the item than to explain the process how to properly change ownership.

*A credit card can buy things during the few hours it stays enabled- a Kindle or laptop or similar has to be sold to be worth money.

Re:Presumably (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29396009)

...Electronics companies could make versions that have restricted usage...

Why should electronics companies do this when they have no incentive whatsoever for it? If your precious little gadget is stolen, you can replace it if it was insured and buy another one and thus they have another sale. If the gadget is tied to a service, such as a phone, the thief or the buyer of the stolen phone or other gadget, will subscribe to the service and thus there is another sale. Companies are in the business to sell stuff, not to help you or police departments recover stolen devices. If your device is stolen, suck it up and buy another one, or maybe hopefully it was insured. Now for really expensive items, that cost thousands of dollars, such as automobiles, there might be a legitimate need for such a thing. The cops have enough to do, without bothering with the loss of your cheap little device costing a few hundred dollars or less. Next time, watch your precious toy a little more carefully.

Why should they? (5, Insightful)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395315)

I mean, seriously. Why should companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, HP, or any manufacturer spend any amount of time helping to track down your stolen property to begin with. It is your responsibility to keep track of your property, not theres. Now, nice automated solutions like Apple's Mobile Me allows you to basically brick a stolen iPhone and track its position, but that was nice to have feature that they added but was in no way required too. If someone steals your car, do you call the car manufacturer and ask them to disable the car remotely so no one can drive it? No... you report it to police and call your insurance company. IMHO this applies to electronics as well.

Re:Why should they? (2, Insightful)

Fished (574624) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395335)

Because it's a trivial amount of effort for them to do so? Because they know that I own it, they know it's registered to me (via my mobile account, credit card, etc.) and all they need to do is have a hash file somewhere?

Re:Why should they? (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395353)

That's not going to track it down. They could easily stop people from using it on their network, but it's worth £0 to try and physically locate it. Don't you normally pay people if you want them to perform a service for you?

Re:Why should they? (5, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395367)

well they don't WANT you to locate it. They WANT you to buy another one...

Re:Why should they? (2, Interesting)

Barny (103770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395499)

You, sir, just won the whole thread.

Very well pointed out and executed, great capitalization and the end, the ellipses, GENIUS.

But yeah, very good point.

Re:Why should they? (1)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395399)

You are right. It is trivial for them to assist with tracking just one kindle. But if they do it for one person, why not the next? And the next? Until they have thousands of people asking for help finding their kindle, which is no longer a trivial task.

Re:Why should they? (1)

RobVB (1566105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395341)

If someone steals your car, do you call the car manufacturer and ask them to disable the car remotely so no one can drive it?

Some high-end car manufacturers offer this kind of service. And who knows, maybe this story will make Amazon think they can sell Premium packages, for people who are willing to pay more for the guarantee that they'll track down your Kindle if you leave it on a bus.

Re:Why should they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395349)

Last I checked no one could charge anything against me using a stolen paperback, nor do they have any chance to pry my personal or financial information from said book.

By linking the device to your finances they gain a responsibility beyond normal goods manufacturers.

Re:Why should they? (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395493)

I know this is Slashdot so you are not expected to have RTFA but could you at least read the summary?

After leaving it on a plane, he canceled his account so that nobody could charge books to his credit card.

They did not stop him unlinking the device from his finances which is something they should be (and probably are) required to do. Beyond that it might be nice if they helped him further but there is certainly no responsibility for them to do so.

Re:Why should they? (5, Insightful)

joeyblades (785896) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395369)

If someone steals your car, do you call the car manufacturer and ask them to disable the car remotely so no one can drive it?

No, you have the police call OnStar and they disable it...

The surprising thing for me is that the companies that have this capability and are resisting this are missing an opportunity to make a lot of money on what some people obviously think is a valuable service.

Re:Why should they? Because they win loyalty (3, Interesting)

ctmurray (1475885) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395381)

If this happened to me and Apple/Amazon helped me recover my device I would be quite grateful. In the end I would be more loyal to them, purchase more of their products and be less critical of their failings in the future. It is quite expensive to get a new customer, and if you can retain a customer at low cost you have save that money replacing or regaining them.

Re:Why should they? (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395385)

I mean, seriously. Why should companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, HP, or any manufacturer spend any amount of time helping to track down your stolen property to begin with.

For the same reason a company may provide services above and beyond what they technically *have* to... it builds customer loyalty. It's up to them to decide whether that's worth more than the potential hassle of dealing with issues like these.

Personally, I suspect it's for fear of lawsuits. Generally speaking, in this country, it seems like it's almost always safer to *do nothing* rather than trying to do the "right thing", which is sort of a sad state of affairs.

Re:Why should they? (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395401)

Make the person provide copies of reasonable proof of ownership (a receipt) and theft (the police report). When these are provided, brick the Kindle with a message to send it back to Amazon for repair. Send it back to the legitimate owner with a bill for $50 recovery fee.

Then make a TV commercial and buy lots of airtime.

Re:Why should they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395423)

Google "OnStar" and "Stolen Vehicle Slowdown Service". The truth is that consumers *want* features that deter theft, and theft of devices is a real problem. The vendors can easily provide services to (a) help with recovery of 'lost' devices i.e., disable all functions and put a 'return me', followed by a wipe (timeout?). Corporations demand remote wipe capability (BES, etc). Consumers deserve the same security.

Re:Why should they? (1)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395437)

Why? Simple. Conflict of interest, and the appearance of impropriety. They stand to make money from the thief (or whoever they fence it to, or whoever the fence sells it to). They will make money from stolen goods. This is not the case for products that do not have on-going service charges applied. This appears to be a conflict of interest between them and their primary customers.

By helping track down a device reported stolen, they can appear to be above base profit motives, and, instead, appear to help deter crime. This would make their devices more valuable because thieves would be less interested in stealing the devices if they knew they could be tracked, or, at the very least, that the device could not be registered to someone else without the original owner explicitly okaying it.

There is a concern with legitimate resale of these devices, of course, but it doesn't take much imagination to deal with this (original owner calling in to cancel "for the purposes of resale" vs "because the damned thing was stolen"). What if someone sells you such a device and then reports it stolen? About the same thing as when someone sells you a car and reports it stolen: the police get involved and work through the stories, eventually arresting the guy who falsely reported it stolen. In this case, probably a civil suit, which would gain the buyer the ability to send a subpoena to the manufacturer to find the original owner's name and address in case you didn't already have it, although going to the police with a report of fraud would probably work, too. We already have laws dealing with this, so it really isn't a problem.

I see no reason why a company shouldn't be helpful to their customer, especially one that is paying a recurring fee for continued use (e.g., OnStar).

Oh, and, yes, you call the car manufacturer (in the case of OnStar-enabled vehicles, and probably others) to ask them to disable the vehicle. You may need a police report, and it may need to be the police contacting OnStar for you, but it's still basically you causing the manufacturer to be notified and the vehicle disabled (safely). OnStar even advertises this as a feature. (I have a 2007 Saturn VUE Hybrid. I've cancelled OnStar, but got an earful when I bought the thing new, as well as when I cancelled and they turned on the heat trying to convince me not to cancel.)

Re:Why should they? (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395573)

....although going to the police....

  is largely futile for small ticket property crimes these days. They are far too busy these days with more serious crimes. The best thing is to have a personal property insurance that will replace the item or just eat the loss and be more careful next time.

Re:Why should they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395855)

They are far too busy these days with more serious crimes.

Yeah, serious victimless crimes like smoking pot and prostitution.

GM's OnStar (1)

ub3r n3u7r4l1st (1388939) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395445)

GM OnStar can disable your car on your request. It is considered another benefit when people are looking at competing products.

Re:Why should they? (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395465)

On one hand you are correct, and there are scenarios that would indicate for manufacturers to not interfere. For instance, I am mad at a friend of mine, so I report a device stolen to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer turns it off. The manufacturer is then in the middle of a domestic squabble, which may incur significant cost, and probably raise the price for the rest of us.

Or take a look at it this way. I could sell the device, and just to be a prick,report it stolen to the manufacture. It would not be a rational thing to do, but a few of these would kill the second hand market for these devices. Instead of whining that the manufactures are not doing anything to make a profit, we would be whining that they are killing the used market to make a profit.

However, if I file a police report and send a copy of the police report to the manufacturer, I do not see how they can in all good faith not disable the device, if they indeed have the option. I mean, in many cases I am sure they would do so if I stopped paying, so why not if the device is part of suspected illegal activity. By not doing so they are accomplices. This is not like a car, as a car does not come standard with kill software, as the kindle does. If a car did come with such control, I can assure you they would use it, with little more than a police report.

No, the requirement for personal police and court attention definitely makes them accomplices to criminals. They are hiding behind the law to minimize the responsibility to the customer, maximize the risk of the customer, and maximize the potential for profit from the criminal behavior. A police report fine,but a visit from a police officer, standard corporate waste of our court system.

Re:Why should they? (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395627)

...No, the requirement for personal police and court attention...

is really only good for something more valuable, such as a car but not a cheap piece of junk that can be replaced for less than what it would cost for all the paperwork to be done. Many police departments are so overworked these days, they do not even bother with property crimes, unless the value stolen gets into the thousands, not a few hundred dollars. It may be cheaper just to get insurance or kiss off the loss. Certainly, manufacturers have no obligation and have no incentive to do police work for their stolen cheap gadgets. Except for cars, most gadgets are just too cheap to warrant so much work.

Re:Why should they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395687)

They can do it (both find it and brick it). The fact that the tech support dudes just shrugged and say 'oh cant do that' really means amazons tech support has f'd up.

Trust me on this the CAN find it. And the ones who have access to the info just havent been given a request to do it, (the request must come from amazon by contract). They can get the thing down to about 20ft of where it is and totally disable it remotely. The system it is based on was meant to find things and say where it is. Its BUILT into the system. The system is there. Its not even that hard to use.

This smells of a tech support screw up and no one wants to say and do the right thing. Much like the deletion of 1984 a few weeks ago. It will take upper level vp's saying 'fix it'. Knowing the tech supports in question it always does.

The story could have been 'how amazon helped me get my kindle back'. Instead it is 'amazon is acting like douchebags'.

Sigh... (1)

Arsenal4rs (1529513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395317)

Im gonna bet its a really interesting article, but since I have to register to view it, I guess I ll never truly know...

On the other hand... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395329)

If Amazon sells you an e-Book on your precious Kindle, they will steal it back from you if the publisher changes their mind about selling an electronic version.

Seems Sensible (3, Insightful)

Quothz (683368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395331)

Not doing it on request is a very sensible policy. Harassment seems just as likely as theft, or at least likely enough to be wary of. Many folks might buy a device for a significant other, then when their relationship hits the skids they may try to report it "stolen".

I also can't imagine the police ignoring a request like that. Even if it's a $300.00 device, I've never met a cop who won't pursue a theft if they think it's likely they'll catch the perpetrator and recover the item. For all the police's faults, ignoring a solvable, easily-prosecuted crime ain't one of 'em. Mind you, if a company won't cooperate with a police request relating to an investigation - subpoena or no - the company should be prosecuted itself.

Re:Seems Sensible (4, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395345)

You've apparently never tried to report a stolen wallet or backpack, or even modest laptop. You fill out forms, answer questions,a nd they do _nothing_. It's just not important enough.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

scheme (19778) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395475)

You've apparently never tried to report a stolen wallet or backpack, or even modest laptop. You fill out forms, answer questions,a nd they do _nothing_. It's just not important enough.

What exactly are they supposed to do? A stolen or lost wallet/backpack/laptop is pretty hard to recover especially if you don't know who did it and more than a few minutes have passed since the theft. Unless whatever is stolen is fairly rare and easily identifiable, the cops can't really do much.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395545)

Actually look at the CCTV recordings of the coffee shop where the laptop was lost? Actually tell you how to contact the lost and found offices of _both_ bus lines that pick people at that terminal? Actually help you act against the spammer forging email in your name?

I've had all of these happen to me or to friends in my presence. They just didn't bring enough traffic ticket money or rise to the level of political significance to pull police out of their cars or out of their construction site traffic duty to pursue smaller crimes. (Don't get me started on the overtime duties that could be filled by a much less expensive traffic guard to free police to do real work.)

I do respect most police officers: they do hard, difficult work. But where I live, at least, they lack resources to pursue many smaller issues that don't raise money for the city, such as theft or loss of property.

Re:Seems Sensible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395481)

Suppose the police wanted to do something. What would they do? They can't go around asking everyone if they've seen the item - they don't have the resources, and the thief, if he's even questioned at all, is just as likely to lie and say "no, officer, I haven't seen that item, whatever gave you the idea that I might have?". They can't go around stopping people and inspecting them for items matching the description of stolen items - the fourth amendment activists would eat them alive (and rightly so, IMO). If you give them no information to go on, you can't really expect them to do anything.

Maybe next time, you could report the theft to a psychic, and see if you get any better resuts.

Re:Seems Sensible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395555)

Of course not, there's potheads out there that they could be busting for an easy $1-2k to the drug enforcement fund each.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395877)

He said "solvable" and "easily-prosecuted."

"Hey, cop, someone swiped my wallet. I last saw it at 3 pm at work and noticed it was missing at 7 pm when I went to pay for dinner."

That's a bit different than "here is the SSN, name, address, phone numbers and a picture of the person who has my notebook." (true story)

In the first case it's a lot of work to investigate and very little chance of finding anything. In the second there's an excellent lead and a good chance of catching a thief.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395519)

"if a company won't cooperate with a police request relating to an investigation - subpoena or no - the company should be prosecuted itself."

Did you really think about that sentence, or you posted in haste? There are multiple reasons why subpoena's are required of the police. I hope that you aren't advocating that we should surrender our civil rights.

The police may request all day long, but I am under no obligation to grant their request. Only when they bring a subpoena to the equation am I obligated to comply with any request.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

Quothz (683368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395813)

There are multiple reasons why subpoena's are required of the police. I hope that you aren't advocating that we should surrender our civil rights.

I s'pose I did post in haste, at that. I posted sloppily and didn't check my terminology. I had thought the police would need a warrant for the information, not a subpoena, believing that the latter required that they have a charged suspect awaiting arraignment or trial. I see now that it's possible to get a subpoena as part of an investigation - although inasmuch as a warrant needs a judge's signature and a subpoena generally doesn't, I'd still prefer they use warrants.

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395559)

if a company won't cooperate with a police request relating to an investigation - subpoena or no - the company should be prosecuted itself

That doesn't sound like the kind of society I want to live in. A subpoena is the process by which the police make a request you cannot legally refuse to cooperate with--- subpoena means "under penalty", and a subpoena is a "request" that carries a penalty for noncooperation. Most free societies have some sort of judicial oversight of this process. You sound like you're arguing for any request by the police to be treated as if it were automatically a subpoena?

Re:Seems Sensible (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395657)

...if it's a $300.00 device....

many, if not most law enforcement agencies will ask you to fill out a report, file it away and that's pretty much the end of it. Most police departments cannot afford the manpower required to pursue such trivial property crimes. In many places these days there are enough violent crimes to keep most police departments more than busy. If a gadget is really valuable to you, get some insurance.

More sales of course ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395337)

The stolen unit gets sold and the new owner starts buying content. The original owner will most likely buy a new one to replace it. Now Amazon has two revenue streams instead of one.

Not Bricking Makes Little Sense (3, Insightful)

eeebbb (1635955) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395351)

Tracking is going way overboard... but bricking on demand is a good idea. Why wouldn't a manufacturer want their electronic devices to have a "useless to steal it" reputation?

Re:Not Bricking Makes Little Sense (1)

nrlightfoot (607666) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395409)

Because they don't want a "we can brick your device if we feel like it" reputation.

Choosing family (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395379)

Who you want to be your next Big Brother?

Re:Choosing family (1)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395469)

They don't want to watch you. They just want to increase their profit margin. Killing resale and locking devices can't hurt their profits, can it? Especially if it bricks if you try to tamper with it, or kill its access to the internet.

$300 Value is nothing (1)

whoda (569082) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395415)

Any police department anywhere pretty much won't try to recover anything worth $300 unless it falls into their lap.

High end devices should come with a user url (2, Interesting)

S1ngularity (1635987) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395439)

Seriously, why don't expensive GPS/internet enabled devices come tied to an online user account from which the user could track, brick a-splode their own device?

Security... (1)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395461)

It's easy to give these devices GPS locators or some kind of backdoor that will allow the owner to disable them. But that raises the issue of security. If you can disable or find your device you can bet that other people will be able to as well. Sure you can talk firewalls and secure connections, but the more they try to seal it and make it uncrackable for your protection, the more proprietary and closed the system is going to become.

I think they should track (4, Interesting)

IMNTPC (45205) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395467)

Last year I absentmindedly left my GPS and Cellphone in the car (was running late to work). About an hour later I realized I didn't have my Cell on me and went out to the car to retrieve it. Lo and behold my TomTom 920T GPS, and my Motorola Q9c were both gone and the window in my car was smashed out. Rough retail value of the phone and gps together were around the $1000.00 range. The police came and took a report, I even actually still had the boxes for both units with the serial numbers. I've not heard anything since.
          What really irks me is that I know for certain that the Cell Phone should be traceable. At least the police could have called Verizon and checked to see if it showed up in any of the 50-100 pawn shops in town. We're not talking major investigate work here, we're talking about what should be a 10-20min call. I called TomTom and also asked them if they could at least make it where that unit will never get an update.. they said it was a feature that many have requested, but at this point in time they didn't offer that.
          I know that there are more important things like murders, etc.. but hey they had to take the time to take the report, could at least do a little diligence.

A police report should do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395479)

I can see them wanting me to "be serious" about reporting my device as stolen, but a copy police report or insurance claim will do. Lying to the police or your insurance company will get you in a lot of hot water, which creates a deterrent to frivolous or fictitious claims.

Don't shut it off! (4, Insightful)

PktLoss (647983) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395495)

The person currently able to login to the Amazon account claims to have purchased lost the device.

Amazon doesn't know if he's sold it, given it away
Amazon doesn't know if someone else logged into his account (ex-partner/significant other?)
Amazon doesn't know if the device was repossessed by a credit card company.

Amazon doesn't have anywhere near enough information to start bricking, or reporting on the location of devices.

Anti-theft systems (1)

bl968 (190792) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395505)

It's simple when the registered owner of the device reports it stolen they add the serial number to a list. Devices in the list can not be updated and will present a message giving the owners phone number to contact about returning the device. Owner is happy because they either get the device back, or they know it can't be used. I asked Apple to do much the same thing when I lost my iPod last year. I feel it is negligence on the manufacturer's part when they do not implement some form of an anti-theft system especially when the device requires access to propriety company owned and operated services. In this instance DRM can work truly on behalf of the consumer.

Re:Anti-theft systems (1)

vxvxvxvx (745287) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395609)

I know with my Nuvi GPS if I report it stolen (not sure if a police report is required, but I have no issue with that anyway) the new owners will not be able to update it. I also like the security features where you have to enter a code each time it starts. My JVC stereo has a similar feature, if it loses power you have to enter a code to use it. I assume there are ways around these security features, but for the common thief (which seems to be adolescents in my area) I doubt they go through the trouble. Then again, until the majority of devices start using features like this the kids will steal the stuff anyway not knowing they can't use it. The pawn shops might not be smart enough to test the goods before buying either.

Re:Anti-theft systems (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395721)

...I feel it is negligence on the manufacturer's part....

What incentive does a manufacturer have to do this? If your precious gadget gets stolen, you or your insurance will likely buy another one and they have another sale. Also, the thief of whoever buys device will likely subscribe to a service attached to the device and the manufacturer or somebody will make more money. A $300 or $400 gadget just isn't worth the time and effort for either the police or a manufacturer. Get some insurance or eat the loss.

Easy: A L W A Y S ! (1)

redelm (54142) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395531)

Finders are not keepers. The device remains his property, and Amazon ought to help him recover it. In fact, if they are found to have dealt with the device (accepted a CC & downloaded a file), they could be charged with abetting the theft.

The correct thing for a finder to do is to turn it in to the airline or airport lost-n-found (however inefficient they might appear). If it is not duly claimed within a specified period, then they can claim the device. To protect themselves, Amazon ought to require such proof, especially if a device has been reported lost or stolen.

Otherwise, I fail to see any privacy issue. A thief is not entitled to any I can see: the owner remains owner of the device, and can legitimately authorize the execution of any program, even remotely. Even a microphone program unless the microphone where surrupticious and otherwise unexpected (bug on the device).

Re:Easy: A L W A Y S ! (1)

Philip_the_physicist (1536015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395771)

Actually, in some places if an item is found, the finder can put up a notice to that effect, and if no-one claims it they become the rightful owner (naturally there would be all sorts of protections against abuse of this).

The content probably wouldn't be transferred though, but IANAL, and there might not be any specific law at all on the matter in your jurisdiction. This might also mean that if you find a laptop and it is unclaimed, you might not be allowed to destroy the data if there is a DMCA-like law in your area, since a password might count as technological protection.

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395675)

Just say it has some CP on it and I'm sure the police would give it a higher priority.

Their reluctance is bunk!!!!! (4, Interesting)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395685)

I used to work for Polaris (Snowmobiles, ATV's, Motorcycles etc). They actively tracked and helped out with stolen equipment on a routine basis. Working these issues was my responsibility at the time. Worked with law enforcement, took reports from civilians and similar things.

You know how much work this took on my part? Very little - this fell under "other duties" while I worked there, and I was the only person at the time who worked these. The vendors like Amazon are refusing to help seeing only an expense and a loss of sales. This sheer and utter greed on their part with justifiable reason. If they can't do this because it's the right thing, than somebody needs to legislate good companies morals on their part.

Owner bricking & selling process (1)

mulaz (1538147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395735)

Reading the comments, I saw two problems:
1: who can brick it
2: is it really stolen or just sold?

The best solution would be to track ownership online, and that every owner can (temporarily) brick and unbrick his device whenever he wants.
The second problem is dealing with reselling... This could be solved by using a two-part code. The seller would get a "sellers code" from amazon (apple,...), which he would give to the buyer at the time of selling (or even post it on the ebay page). The buyer would have to register the device in his name (as he has to do now), but the device wouldn't work without the sellers code. After the registration and entering the code, the new owner (only him) could un/brick the device whenever he wanted.

Re:Owner bricking & selling process (1)

mulaz (1538147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395745)

Oh yes... and of course, the buyer should be able to verify the sellers code prior to paying.

Good for Amazon (1)

chord.wav (599850) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395743)

If they had bricked it, they wouldn't be helping to solve the problem. The guy would have bitched about them not requiring any legal order and how easy would be for a social engineer to brick any device.

They actually taught the guy a valuable lesson: You are responsible for your property. You are a grown up, act like one.

Selling an electronic device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29395761)

Selling your electronic device should involve de-registering it first. When the seller receives it, the first thing they do is confirm that it's no longer registered to anyone -- so they can now register it.

This way Amazon doesn't have to adjudicate disputes over re-registering a stolen device. Their policy can be simply: "If you are going to buy a kindle, make sure the previous owner unregisters it *first*. Because if you accept the device before they've unregistered it, and they later report it stolen, we will disable it." Why is that so hard?

To all of the people justifying the pain the provider would have to deal with -- if they wanted to go with a policy like I describe above, they wouldn't have to adjudicate anything.

The PROBLEM is, they don't want to make it EASY for people to resell kindles. They'd rather it was a PAIN-IN-THE-ASS so people will be less likely to do it!!

Yarr, twas booty fair and square! (1, Interesting)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 4 years ago | (#29395943)

Sorry, but if I leave a non-E book on a plane, it's too bad, someone else gets it. Why is the e-book any different?

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